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FM Global urges better safety test for high-rise exterior claddings that have fuelled deadly building fires

Alternate protocol improves testing and overcomes flaws of desktop certification

Costly and sometimes fatal fires in some of the world’s newest and tallest buildings have recently been stoked by highly combustible exterior claddings chosen for aesthetics, energy efficiency, weather-proofing and cost-effectiveness—not safety.

Moreover, prevailing methods for testing the combustibility of exterior claddings enable potentially life-threatening product assemblies to sail through regulatory approvals and onto the façades of residential and commercial properties throughout the developed world.

In fact, some product combinations are not subjected to fire testing. Instead, their combustibility is judged through desktop assessments and the only real, physical test will come when they are within the built environment in a real fire situation. The reason for this is due to the costs and time to complete large-scale fire testing, which have allowed “desktop assessments” to arise.

FM Global, one of the world’s largest commercial property insurers, regularly conducts fire research and participates in global building-code improvement efforts. It understands that scientifically robust, repeatable, cost-effective, and timely testing must be completed to properly assess if a building material is fit for purpose.

For that reason, FM Global today proposes a better testing protocol that follows the company’s in-depth examination of exterior wall systems made of metal composite materials (MCMs) or aluminium composite materials (ACMs) using 16-foot-high parallel panels as outlined in the test protocol for the ANSI/FM 4880 standard.

FM Global outlines the strengths of the proposed protocol in a new research technical report, “Evaluation of the Fire Performance of Aluminum Cladding Material (ACM) Assemblies Using ANSI/FM 4880.”

“While many fire engineering firms perform desktop assessments in good faith, current practices and regulations introduce the possibility that substandard, dangerous assemblies will slip through the cracks,” said Dr. Louis Gritzo, vice president, manager of research at FM Global. “We can’t afford to take this risk as buildings burn and lives are lost, even in the developed world. We believe the protocol in ANSI/FM 4880 is a key to the solution.”

The research technical report complements a recently released FM Global white paper, “Grenfell: The Perfect Formula for Tragedy,” that explores the dangers of combustible cladding.

About FM Global

Established nearly two centuries ago, FM Global’s capital, scientific research capability and engineering expertise are solely dedicated to property risk management and the resilience of its client-owners. These owners, who share the belief that the majority of property loss is preventable, represent many of the world’s largest organisations. They work with FM Global to better understand the hazards that can impact their business continuity in order to make cost-effective risk management decisions, combining property loss prevention with insurance protection.

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